Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell has told of the agonising moment he broke the news to his ex-wife Maria that he would be marrying his boyfriend.
Mr Burrell, 58, who runs a florist in Farndon and lives in Peckforton, believes he has found a soulmate in lawyer Graham Cooper, but told the Daily Mirror: “I shouldn’t be doing this to people who love me.
“My mum told me before she died, ‘Paul, go through life and be kind, and try not to hurt anyone.’ I have hurt the most important people in my life. I call that selfish.”
He and Maria, 63, who stood by him when police raided their former Farndon home and he was falsely accused of stealing Diana’s possessions, had been separated for more than a decade when their 32-year marriage ended in divorce last year.
But when he told her of his wedding plans, he said she was devastated and warned him he faced ‘losing’ his sons.
The boys, Nick, 24, and Alex, 27, have since pledged their support and promised to attend the wedding in the Lake District next month.
But Burrell said: “Myself and Maria have been to hell and back. Our marriage lasted 32 years, and I still want to be there for her. We cried, when I told Maria I was marrying Graham.
“And she said, ‘Does that mean we’ll never be together as a family again?’ I said, ‘No, it doesn’t mean that.’ She said, ‘You could lose your sons. You’ll lose them because they won’t understand,’ but she was wrong.”
He said Maria, who lives with their boys in Florida, had asked: “Will we never wake up on Christmas morning and open our stockings together?”
Burrell said: “I told her, ‘No, it doesn’t mean that. It’s a different chapter. I want you to be happy for me. I love you. You have to set me free.”
Maria has yet to meet Graham, but son Nick is to be introduced before the wedding and Alex has already got to know him.
Burrell, who today (Monday, March 13) appeared on ITV’s This Morning, revealed that the boys asked him if he would invite their mum to the wedding.
He said: “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate, do you? I don’t think she would handle it very well.’
“They said, ‘How can we leave her behind? I said, ‘You have to make that decision, talk to her about it, she is a wonderful woman and she is your mother, and you have to love us both.’
“My boys are very, very precious to me and it will be the proudest moment of my life to stand with my two children and make a commitment to someone whom I love.”
Burrell began seeing Graham more than 10 years ago but only told his sons at Christmas, in Florida.
He said: “It broke my heart to have to sit down and discuss my sexuality with my two children.
“Then I had to suffer the indignity of questions, ‘Did I love their mother when they were born?’ And because I loved her, it really was heart-wrenching to have to do that.
“I broke down and in between all of the crying I told them my story, and I thought they’d get up from the table and walk out of my life, but they didn’t. I said, ‘I’m sorry for breaking up this unit. I feel totally selfish. I want you to meet this wonderful man. Because he is good, kind, and he is now my rock.’ Because they are wonderful boys they’ve stood by me.”
Burrell believes Diana would have wanted him to find happiness. He said: “She’d have given me a hug and told me everything would be OK. She’s the one voice I want to hear, but I can’t hear.”
The former royal butler says he almost revealed his sexuality on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! but said: “This was the perfect opportunity to tell the world, but I wasn’t in the right place.”
But he is now and is relieved that it is all out in the open. He said: “What I’m looking forward to most is being a couple and being able to say to people, ‘Have you met my other half?’ He has a gentleness and a kindness I wish I could have. I don’t know where he finds the courage from.”